I went to the Art Society's monthly lecture this morning, on English gardens of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, but as my friend and I sat chatting and waiting for the lecture to start she pointed out to me that in the slideshow running before the talk, advertising forthcoming trips and study days and asking us to turn our phones off, there was a notice announcing that the topic of the day's lecture had been switched to the art of Spain's Golden Age. The reason for this turned out to be that the lecturer had been switched from the original lecturer, who was stuck in a train somewhere outside Oxford, to a very obliging art historian who lived in Essex and was willing to rearrange her morning at less than two hour's notice.
I was mildly disappointed, since I was genuinely curious to hear an alternative overview of contemporary garden design to that chosen to feature in glossy garden magazines. Depending on the contents of the lecture I even had a question up my sleeve, whether the lecturer thought contemporary English gardens were narrower in scope than in the previous century, and if so why, or whether it was just that the editors of Gardens Illustrated and other aspirational lifestyle publications had homed in on a particular aesthetic that they thought their readers would like. Instead I put my garden talks notebook back in my bag and settled down to learn about Spanish art. Probably I was not so disappointed as the booking secretary from one of the local garden clubs who is not even a member of the Art Society, but came with her husband this one time because it was a talk on gardens.
Last month's lecture began a good twenty minutes late because the trains out of London were running very slowly, meaning that the poor lecturer had to gallop through at breakneck speed so that the audience could move their cars before the late morning parking restrictions designed to stop people parking there all day for work kicked in, so the society has had an unlucky run with trains. Either that, or it is a sad indictment of the state of England's railways. You must need nerves of steel to run a large club that depends on outside lecturers when most of them are travelling from elsewhere. I presume the organisers keep a list of emergency contacts, art experts who live locally and might be willing to fill in at short notice. I've filled in for a few garden clubs over the years, but agreed a couple of days in advance, not two hours.
Fortunately the art of Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is interesting, both intrinsically and for the influence it cast on some much later artists. I had spotted the similarity between one of the slides of El Greco she showed us and Picasso's cubist nude bathers before she flashed a picture of the Picasso up next to the El Greco to make the point. And she told us about the developments going on in Bishop's Auckland, where a successful hedge fund manager is setting up a museum of Spanish art. I had heard of the new Spanish art foundation, and the lecture certainly whetted my appetite to visit once it was opened. The date of that could be slipping so it might be next year, but it might not be until 2019.
There are no lectures for the next couple of months, as the Art Society, along with the Suffolk Plant Heritage group and all the chamber music series I support, gives up for the holiday season. It helps add to the sense of the year's rhythm, like only eating strawberries or asparagus when they are in season in England. Come the shorter and cooler days, just as we start to think about having a small fire in the evening, the clubs and societies reconvene. Only the garden club continues resolutely through the holiday season, instead declining to compete with Christmas and taking a break in December.